Ulterior Motives

How goals, both seen and unseen, drive behavior

Conservative Politics and Well-Being

Your political views are not actually that strongly related to well-being.

Last week, I wrote a blog entry about an interesting analysis of purchase data.  The study I described found that the proportion of Republication voters and the degree of religiosity in counties in the United States is negatively related to purchase of new products and purchase of generic products.  The data suggest that people with conservative political tendencies are more likely to purchase familiar name-brand products than those with liberal political tendencies.

 I got a lot of comments on this blog entry, most of which accused me of a liberal bias.  That is not my intention in writing blog entries.  My strategy as a blogger is to find new studies that I think will have some general interest and to provide enough details about what was done for people to draw their own conclusions about the research.

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 But, in the event that I do suffer from some liberal bias, I want to try to correct it with this entry.

 There is an interesting paper in the April, 2013 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Emma Onraet, Alain Van Hiel, and Kristof Dhont that explores the relationship between political ideology and well-being.

 Going back to the 1950s, there were suggestions in the research literature that conservative political values might actually be associated with lower levels of well-being and self-esteem.  Researchers advanced a number of reasons why this might be the case. For example, one suggestion is that people with high levels of anxiety may adopt conservative political values in order to cope with that anxiety. A theory like this would suggest that conservative political views are a result of feeling that undermine a sense of well-being.

 Because of these hypotheses, it is important to know whether there is a link between conservative political views and well-being.  The authors of this paper performed a meta-analysis of studies examining the relationship between conservative political views and well-being.  In a meta-analysis, researchers look across a number of studies to determine the size of the relationship among variables.  Meta-analyses are important, because individual studies may not have enough power to really detect these relationships.  Looking across many different studies can often provide a clearer picture of the data.

 This meta-analysis included 21 different studies that looked at the relationship between conservative political views and measures of well-being. These studies involved participants from the United States, Europe, and New Zealand/Australia. 

 Contrary to some of the early claims in the literature, there was no reliable relationship between conservative political views and positive and negative affect or with self-esteem.  Across these studies, there was a very small positive relationship between conservative political views and life satisfaction (which accounted for about 1% of the relationship between these variables).

 Finally, the researchers explored a number of other variables that were incorporated into studies.  One relationship that did emerge was that as adults get older, there is a tendency for conservative political views to relate more strongly to measures of well-being.  Because conservatism is often focused on maintaining social and cultural norms, it may be that older adults have a greater stake in preserving the culture they have helped to shape than younger adults. 

 Looking across many studies, then, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between political views and well-being. 

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Art Markman, Ph.D., is a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas whose research spans a range of topics in the way people think.

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